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Colorado Springs museum features 50 works from the eclectic Vogel collection

May 9, 2013 Updated: May 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm
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A postal clerk and a librarian - Herbert and Dorothy Vogel - made quite a name for themselves in the art world. Shortly after their wedding in 1962, they began to amass one of the country's largest art collections, more than 4,000 pieces.

A portion of that collection, which has been called a work of art in itself, was gifted to the Fine Arts Center in 2009 and the resulting exhibition, '50 x 50, ' opens Saturday.

'Looking back at history and the major works gifted to us, this is among the top ones, ' said Blake Milteer, museum director. 'It opened up the awareness of the Fine Arts Center to the rest of the world, and it's arguable that at least one gift since then will have come because we're on people's radars. '

The Vogels, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, split a combined annual income of less than $50,000 to pursue their passion: Her salary paid their living expenses and his salary bought art.

Herb died in July at age 89. Dorothy, 78, still lives in New York City but no longer collects art.

They were said to visit up to 25 art openings a week in their heyday of the '60s and '70s and continued to buy pieces until Herb got sick several years before his death. They became good friends of many of the artists they collected. Their contemporary collection consists mostly of works on paper, and while it does include many lesser-known artists, it also boasts famous ones, such as Richard Tuttle, Sol LeWitt, Jeanne-Claude and Christo. They had an eye for minimalist and conceptual works and made their purchases based on several criteria: It had to be affordable, it had to be small enough to transport on the subway or in a taxi and it had to fit in their apartment - thus, the small stature of many of their paintings, drawings, photos, sculpture and other media.

Rumors still abound about the couple and their art. It has been said the collection was stacked so high under the bed that the bed began to levitate off the ground. Not true. People said they stuffed works in their oven. Also, not true.

What is true: Due to the size of their collection, they donated it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1990. Even that museum couldn't hold the collection, so, in 2008, the Vogels and curator Ruth Fine announced one of the art world's largest philanthropic gifts. The couple decided to gift 50 pieces of art to 50 galleries, museums or educational institutions, one in each state, giving away more than 2,500 pieces. The program is called 'The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. '

In Colorado, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center was the recipient of the collection, which arrived in 2009. According to the website, which features the project catalogue, the Vogels had a handful of criteria they and Fine used to select which institutions received the gifts. Some had previously exhibited works from the collection or invited the Vogels to speak. Sometimes they donated to places with people they had worked with over the years. They also donated to cities that played a significant role in their lives. Institutions that had an interest in contemporary art were chosen, and others were recipients because they might not otherwise have been able to acquire similar work.

'It had unbelievable potential possibility for the Fine Arts Center, ' said Milteer, museum director.

Milteer said the Denver Art Museum contacted them when the project was announced and asked if they were interested. He and his staff looked through the artists in the collection and also the artists they had in their own collection. It was important the new works help fill gaps in the Fine Arts Center's cache and also to bring in works that could easily become part of future exhibits.

'We had a gap in post-1960s conceptual art and minimal art, ' Milteer said. 'It made sense to take it. '

Some of the artists' work in the Vogel collection given to the Fine Arts Center include Adam Fuss, Michael Lucero, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Tuttle and Will Barnet, who won the National Medal of Arts this year.

In a March interview the Huffington Post did with Dorothy, she said, 'I think if you take the work of Richard Tuttle, for instance, his work is difficult, and people have to see it a few times to get into it. A lot of the work from the collection is like that: at first glance, it's hard, but you see it again and again and again, and it grows on you. You have to take the time to reflect on it. '


Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.

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